The Skinny: Friday's headlines include a preview of the weekend box office, a legal battle over a new service promising to stream broadcast television, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone's busy life and how the WWE's plans for a cable channel seem to have taken a fall.
Daily Dose. In what will likely turn out to be a case of "do what I say, not what I do," Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt again lamented the rising costs of programming and how consumers suffer in the end. “A lot of the people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck want our product, but simply can’t afford it," Britt said at an investor conference. Of course, Time Warner Cable will soon be hitting Los Angeles consumers with a new sports network that will carry the Los Angeles Lakers and that could end up with the Dodgers as well. Maybe Britt will back up his words and give customers the option to subscribe to it instead of making everyone pay.
Photo: "The Lorax." Credit: MCT
"The Lorax" to clean up. Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax," about an environmentally conscious creature, is expected to sweep the competition out of the way at the box office this weekend. The 3-D movie is expected to take in about $50 million. Reviews have been poor, as the story has been expanded, modernized (including irreverent attitude) and message made more heavy handed. Also opening is the low-budget teen comedy "Project X," which is poised to take in $20 million. I'd like to see that but I don't want to ruin the demographics for Warner Bros. Box office previews from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.
Photo: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Lenny Kravitz in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close / Lionsgate
Hunger Games' could open at $100 million, surveys suggest "The Hunger Games" is poised to slaughter the box office competition with an opening that could surpass $100 million.On Thursday, Lionsgate's adaptation of the best-selling book came onto "tracking," the survey data used by Hollywood executives to measure pre-release interest, and the numbers are massive. People who have seen the numbers but were not authorized to discuss them publicly said the film, which debuts March 23, could have a domestic opening weekend of close to, and possibly more than, $100 million.
More consumers rate "The Hunger Games" as their first choice film to see than any movie coming out in the next four weeks. Typically, the movies that get the highest "first choice" ratings are ones closest to their release dates.
Currently, the three biggest companies that provide tracking data are estimating that "Hunger Games" will open to between $70 million and $90 million.
However, Lionsgate still has to roll out most of its marketing for "Hunger Games," which stars Jennifer Lawrence. If ads on TV, print and the Internet along with billboards and publicity help to increase interest in the film, it could end up opening to more than $100 million, several people who saw the data said.
While "Hunger Games" is being compared to "Twilight" by many people, because both are based on books series that are tremendously popular with teenagers, Lionsgate's upcoming film has one key advantage: While the four "Twilight" films have generated their nearly $1.1 billion in domestic box office primarily from women, surveys show that men are interested in "The Hunger Games" as well.
Females, particularly those younger than 25, are the most excited for "Hunger Games," but more men over and under 25 also rate the film as their top choice than any other film opening in the next four weeks.
Already, "The Hunger Games" has broken the record for most first-day sales from online ticketing service Fandango.
A set back for Internet TV. Aereo, a start-up backed by mogul Barry Diller that streams broadcast TV signals over the Internet, is due to launch in New York in a few weeks, but Thursday it was hit with lawsuits from CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, Univision, PBS and some local broadcasters. The suits were expected as the networks generally don't take kindly to people trying to stream their signals without permission. Details from the Los Angeles Times and Paid Content.
Aereo, a new service that promises consumers access to broadcast TV though the Internet, has been hit with lawsuits from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision and PBS.
Scheduled to launch in New York City on March 14, Aereo hopes to charge customers $12 a month to receive broadcast television signals and have access to a digital video recorder in the sky that can hold up to 40 hours of programming.
The two suits — one from ABC, CBS and NBC and the other from Fox, Univision and PBS — were both filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and charge that Aereo does not have the permission or the legal right to retransmit their content via the Internet and is in violation of copyright laws.
"No amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo — or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated 'rabbit ears' — changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit Plantiffs' broadcasts may do so only with Plaintiffs' authority," said the suit filed by Fox, PBS and Univision.
Aereo, originally called Bamboom, is backed in part by IAC/InterActiveCorp., the Internet company whose chairman is Barry DillerDiller on Aereo's board of directors, but IAC led the startup's $20.5-million round of financing.
“This service is based on the illegal use of our content," said NBC, CBS and ABC in a statement.
Aereo said in a statement that it "does not believe that the broadcasters’ position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues."
Tribune Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times and owner of TV stations that include KTLA in Los Angeles, is a plaintiff in the Fox-led suit.
Photo: A Redbox kiosk in San Rafael, Calif. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images.
Universal keeps peace with Redbox, spurning Warner Bros. Universal Pictures has decided not to join forces with Warner Bros. in that studio's war with Redbox.Universal, the studio behind "Safe House" and this weekend's "The Lorax," on Thursday announced an extension of its deal with the DVD rental kiosk company through August 2014 that will maintain the current 28-day wait from when DVDs go on sale until consumers can rent them from Redbox.
The news comes two months after rival studio Warner Bros. said it would only sell discs to Redbox if it agreed to double the length of the so-called rental "window" to 56 days. The Illinois-based company refused and is now buying Warner DVDs directly from retailers at a higher price than it would have paid the studio.
Executives at both Warner and Universal believe that delays on DVD rentals from Redbox, as well as from Netflix, incentivize consumers to buy the discs or rent films via video-on-demand. Both of those transactions are significantly more profitable to studios than kiosk rentals, which cost just $1.20 per night.
As a result, Universal had wanted to follow in Warner's footsteps and extend the delay on its movies to 56 days, said a person familiar with the thinking of executives at the studio who was not authorized to speak publicly. But Universal ultimately concluded that trying to force the issue could actually harm its bottom line, the person added.
The reason: Redbox has been successful in stocking its 35,400 kiosks with recent Warner releases such as "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas" and "J. Edgar" in as little as a week after they went on sale. Universal executives concluded that rather than seeing their movies become available in Redbox's kiosks earlier than they currently are, it was better to stick with the current arrangement.
Galen Smith, senior vice president of Redbox, said his company is still making a profit on the Warner discs it buys at retail and is prepared to continue with its current arrangement indefinitely. The company presumably would have taken the same approach with Universal, as Smith made clear that a wait longer than four weeks is not acceptable to Redbox.
"In order to have a strong relationship with a studio, we're willing to extend to 28 days, but we think that is the right amount for our business," he said.
Universal's decision is sure to frustrate executives at Warner Bros., who are tolerating a battle with Redbox that hurts their studio's bottom line because they are standing on a principle that they believe will be beneficial in the long run. If Universal had held its ground on the 56-day window, it might have increased the pressure on Redbox to cave.
Twentieth Century Fox's deal with Redbox, which also includes a 28-day delay, expires in 2013. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger recently said his studio intends to implement a 28-day delay soon as well. An agreement with Sony Pictures, which lets Redbox rent discs the same day they go on sale, expires in September.
Universal's agreement with Netflix expires in April. Warner successfully convinced Netflix to implement a 56-day delay on renting its DVDs through the mail. However, because it kept the 28-day window with Redbox, Universal may not be able to convince Netflix to accept a longer wait.
Does he have better things to do? Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone is skipping the company's annual meeting in New York next week. It's the first time in recent memory that the 88-year-old media mogul has skipped a shareholder gathering. The company said the decision wasn't health-related. Details from the Wall Street Journal. Redstone does have his priorities in order. While he'll miss the meeting, he will be present later in March when he gets a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Sumner Redstone, center, arrives at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on Feb. 26. Credit: Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency
Viacom Executive Chairman Sumner Redstone won't be attending his company's annual shareholders' meeting in New York next week. However, later this month, he will be staking out a spot on Hollywood Boulevard.
Redstone will be at the center of attention on March 30 when he receives his own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. He will join the ranks of other past and present media moguls with their names forever emblazoned on the legendary Hollywood stretch including Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Louis B. Mayer and Darryl Zanuck.
Redstone, the 88-year-old controlling shareholder of both Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp., has been making fewer public appearances in recent years. However, he did attend the 84th Academy Awards last Sunday, an event also staged on Hollywood Boulevard, about 8 miles from his home in the gated enclave of Beverly Park.
But he is not planning to make the cross-country trip to New York to attend next week's shareholders meeting, marking the first time in memory that Redstone will miss Viacom's annual gathering. Redstone's absence will be due to an "unavoidable conflict," Viacom spokesman Carl Folta said Thursday, declining to elaborate on the reason.
Instead, the man who once roared that "Viacom is me" will address shareholders in a videotaped message. Redstone's conflict, according to Folta, was "not health related."
Even though Redstone won't be there in person, he still will control the show. Redstone holds nearly 80% of Viacom's voting shares, so it is a safe bet that he will cast the votes necessary to retain his seat as executive chairman. In Viacom's most recent fiscal year, Redstone raked in $21 million in executive compensation — about $6 million more than he received in 2010.
Viacom includes such assets as MTV, VH-1, Comedy Central, BET, TV Land and the Hollywood-based movie studio Paramount Pictures.
Pinned down. WWE, the folks behind professional wrestling, has for years talked about launching its own cable network. But the New York Post reports those plans are "on the ropes." WWE, the Post said, wanted to have a channel launched by this spring.
USA Today take on the new release.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Kenneth Turan on "The Lorax." Betsy Sharkey on "Being Flynn."
-- Joe Flint and others
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